15 Feb, Jyoti : “Teachers and students are the heroes of the world to come,” Joaquín Antuña, President of the Peace and Cooperation Foundation, said this morning as he launched the 2009 Peace and Cooperation School Award competition at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Spain.
Mr. Antuña said that the Spain-based Peace and Cooperation Foundation had been holding the competition since 1996 with the aim of bringing big issues to schools around the world. As such, the annual competition was launched at the United Nations, the “house of the world”. Accompanying Mr. Antuña were Elvira Sánchez Egual of the World Association of Early Childhood Educators, Nancy Rivard, President of Airline Ambassadors, and youth ambassador Kasey Shelly.
Describing recent competitions, he said “A World without Violence” had been the theme of the 2005 event; “A Planet without Gender Violence”, an important issue in Spain, had marked the 2006 edition; the “Sixtieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” had been the focus in 2007; and “Water for All” had been the 2008 theme.
He said the 2009 theme, “Learning to Live Together and in Peace”, would pay tribute to teachers and children living up to it, while reflecting on the work carried out by the United Nations in pursuit of that objective, particularly in light of complex issues such as food shortage and the financial crisis that were impacting people lives.
“This is a living sudoku,” he said, comparing the current global situation with the popular numbers-based logic puzzle, and noting that even the United Nations would be challenged to solve it, despite the Organization’s place at the centre of political life and its role as a forum for dialogue and decisions. There was good news in the “winds of change that blew from Chicago to Washington” because “we need dialogue”, he added, expressing the hope that many students and teachers would participate in the 2009 competition.
Ms. Sánchez Egual said the World Association of Early Childhood Educators had been created in 1991 to be of service to educators of children aged up to 6 years. According to a study conducted in the state of Michigan, United States, there was a return of $17 for every $1 invested in an early child development programme.
“We are living in a culture of negative values,” she said, noting that there were many levels of violence, particularly in schools, a situation that had to change. Living together in peace could be achieved only through a plan of action that fed children’s minds with values, including the rejection of violence. “Education is the most powerful tool in building the values of peace in the minds of the next generation.” Educators must focus on violence prevention, rather than intervention.
The 2009 Award had been organized around six categories, she said. Children aged up to 6 years had been asked to draw a vision of “What peace means to me”, while those 7 to 12 years old were required to show on a poster what they would do to defend peace. Teenagers 13 to 16 years old were to depict on a mural their vision of living together in peace, and those 16 to 18 years old had been assigned to capture images that would help achieve that goal. Students of all ages could send a letter or email to the attention of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposing how to achieve world peace. Teachers were invited to send a video of their respective school’s celebration of the International Day of Peace on 21 September.
Ms. Rivard said Airline Ambassadors had co-sponsored the Peace and Cooperation Award since 1996. The competition had involved 1 million children since its inception, and information about it was distributed through the United Nations Department of Public Information and the Permanent Mission of Spain. “It’s been wonderful to get students to reflect on a global theme each year.” The theme for 2009 was particularly relevant in raising awareness of the ideas set forth in the preamble to the United Nations Charter, including: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to practise tolerance, living together in peace as good neighbours; and to maintain peace and international security.
She said that, in her travels as a flight attendant, she had found that, despite cultural differences, people were bound together by an underlying common humanity, and Airline Ambassadors was participating today in order to further that. It was important to support the Secretary-General’s message of “peace not only as a priority, but as a passion”.
Describing Airline Ambassadors, she recalled that, in December, it had filled an aircraft donated by American Airlines with $1 million in aid, which the organization had then distributed to non-governmental organizations and children in Haiti. Over the past year, Airline Ambassadors had pioneered a new relationship with the United States military aimed at bringing shipments into countries like Honduras and Paraguay. It was to be hoped that, through marketing, Airline Ambassadors would help people understand more about the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals.
Rounding out the discussion was 18-year-old Ms. Shelly, winner of the Airline Ambassadors 2007 Award for Excellence, who said: “It is crucial that children become aware of the problems that burden the world today so that they can have a voice in helping to solve them.” Indeed, children had a fresh optimism and their opinions should be sought.
Underscoring the importance of a dialogue open to “countries large and small”, as well as to individuals of all ages, she noted that children would inherit the issues left unsolved today, adding that she was fully committed to taking ideas back to her family, friends and total strangers. “You never know what someone’s idea might mean for one of the Millennium Development Goals we’re trying to reach.”